The Feeding of the 5000. What a story for this August Communion Sunday as we gather on the parking lot! A crowd, a problem, and God’s economy. Now this is an abbreviated service and so this will be an abbreviated meditation. As I mused on this Scripture I began to hear three comments: 1) Make do with what you have; 2) Together is better; and 3) Watch for happy surprises.
“Make do with what you have.” We get all tripped up trying to explain what happened with the feeding of the 5000, or the multitude (one of the stories that is featured in all four gospels). Here in Matthew, the disciples know they have a serious food shortage—“we only have 5 loaves and 2 fish,” they say. And Jesus says, “make do with what you have.”
During this pandemic, many of us who are used to having everything, and anything at our beck and call, have had to learn this simple lesson. No Clorox wipes, make do with bleach, or rubbing alcohol and paper towels. Feeling it’s too risky to order out, “what exactly is in the pantry? And what could I make with it?” Musicians started livestreaming daily concerts. Theaters experimented with “on-line” art. We made do with what we had.
I think this is a reminder to be grateful for the blessings that are right in front of our eyes. 5 loaves and 2 fish could sound like nothing, or it could be a feast.
“Together is better.” Regardless of how many loaves and fishes you have, Jesus teaches us that God’s way is a communal way. The disciples, God love them, are much more like most of us. Get into trouble, push comes to shove, circle the wagons, take care of numero uno, let everyone fend for themselves. This is what the disciples suggest to Jesus. “Hey, it’s getting dark. We’re in the middle of nowhere. Tell the people to go find their own food.”
And Jesus nixes that idea. He’s going to keep the group together. Whatever they have or don’t have, whatever they face, they will do it as a community. Now this is where God’s economy comes face to face with how we live our lives. For whether we know it or not, whether we consciously tip the scales in favor of some, the way that we as Americans have been living only pays lip service to “community.” How else could we be in a situation where we as a country haven’t done what needs to be done to keep everyone safe in this pandemic? How else to explain that it has been put up for discussion that certain places to live aren’t for everyone, that certain peaceful protests are threatening, that people who are desperately trying to keep their families in a home and properly fed are getting too much money in supplemental unemployment insurance? That isn’t “together is better”—rather, that is, “hey, why don’t we let ‘those’ people figure out their own way.”
In our Matthew 25 consciousness about trying to dismantle racism and deal with structural poverty, “together is better” is not some kind of fluffy mantra—it is a call to careful, honest, faithful, long-term conversation and action.
“Watch for happy surprises.” This is the miracle part. How is it with 5 loaves and 2 fishes all those people ate, were satisfied, and there were 12 baskets of left-overs? A miracle. A happy surprise. God’s economy—God’s wealth and resources—is so far beyond what we can grasp. But every once in a while, we get a glimpse of it. The miracles, the happy surprises are there for the taking—we just need to make do, stick together, and keep our eyes open.
What happy surprises have there been for me during this time of disruption and “together/apart”? Well, we (along with many others) have been forced to get closer to speed on our online presence. Six months ago I did not know zoom existed, and certainly would not have wanted to do a worship service on it. But going virtual has meant that we can be in closer touch to those we know and love who no longer live here in the West Orange area. “Together,” has expanded in this world where we can see and hear each other over the internet.
For UPC, this has been a time for some of us to get to know one another better—there’s nothing like a crisis, a common enemy, to forge strong bonds. We’ve gotten to “see” inside people’s homes, meet people’s animal companions, and begin to craft new networks of caring. And this isn’t just an “internal” thing. So many of you (inside and outside the church) have participated in our Food Ministry in one way or another; I know that there have been phone calls to one another, and “over the fence” socially distanced meetings; and music recorded on cell phones in living rooms; and people willing to take on projects like this outside worship service, and so much more. You have listened to what is happening to those in our wider community.
Thank you for all you do. You are a happy surprise to others.
Make do with what you have; together is better; watch for happy surprises. As I put this sermon together, I realized that the refrain from “Great is Thy Faithfulness” (which I chose for this service because I thought we might all know the words) [that refrain] was running through my head. It made me hear those words maybe in a different light: “Morning by morning new mercies I see, All I have needed thy hand hath provided, ‘Great is thy Faithfulness,’ Lord, unto thee.”
As we come to the Lord’s table, whether together or apart, whether in New Jersey, or Florida, or Tennessee, or anywhere else in the world, we celebrate what God has given us; we rejoice that we are all called to the same table; and we come knowing that in God’s economy, there will always be more than we could ever imagine.
May it be so, Alleluia, Amen.